Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Browning: "SHIFTING LOYALTIES: The Union Occupation of Eastern North Carolina"

[Shifting Loyalties: The Union Occupation of Eastern North Carolina by Judkin Browning (University of North Carolina Press, 2011). Hardcover, maps, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:195/263. ISBN:978-0-8078-3468-8  $37.50]

With a civilian populace significantly divided in allegiance and much of its territory under uninterrupted Union control beginning in early 1862, the tidewater section of the state of North Carolina has proven to be a useful laboratory for the scholarly study of the social and political ramifications of Union occupation. The result of historian Judkin Browning's investigation into the dramatic shift away from pro-Union sentiment among many loyal residents of the towns of New Bern and Beaufort by the end of the Civil War is the fine new book Shifting Loyalties: The Union Occupation of Eastern North Carolina.

Although a brief summary of the Union campaign leading to the fall of the two towns is provided, Shifting Loyalties is not a military history. Readers wishing to discover details about the wildly successful combined operations that seized the region's leading ports and waterways should best consult Richard Sauers's sublime A Succession of Honorable Victories: The Burnside Expedition in North Carolina (Morningside, 1996). What Browning's study does so effectively is trace the role of revolutionary social change in race relations in eroding the identification of the white population with the Union cause, the last straw for many being the Emancipation Proclamation. At least initially, many residents welcomed the occupation for sound economic reasons. The resumption of trade (albeit with restrictions maddening to local businessmen) and the large increase in paying customers that the occupation brought did wonders to sustain at least outward pro-unionist feeling, but, according to the author, gradually increasing dissatisfaction over the unwelcome changes in race relations trumped monetary gain.

A common theme of the book is the clash of alien cultures. A high proportion of the regiments performing occupation duties in Craven and Carteret counties hailed from Massachusetts and these men were unable or unwilling to believe that conservative, pro-slavery North Carolinians could be loyal. Mistrust and suspicion reigned, especially when the southern unionists's expectations of property protection (human and otherwise) were not met. Occupying forces found themselves changed by the experience as well, with grinding boredom, increasing local hostility, and feelings of not contributing to the prosecution of the war all leading to significant demoralization.

Another source of local resentment was the steady influx of northern missionaries and teachers into the region to set up black schools and other means of assistance in violation of prewar state law. Poor whites often interpreted this 'favoritism' as an attempt to elevate blacks above them in the social pecking order. The area's black population was also able to assert newly awarded independence in other ways, including enlisting in the Union army and navy. They became valuable informers, pilots, and guides. New found confidence also led to some disorder, with an increase in plundering and evening of old scores, as well as verbal and physical confrontations in public between residents and former slaves. Blacks were also allowed by the army to be involved in confiscating the property of whites. All of these actions enraged white unionists in eastern North Carolina.

Completing the process of 'shifting loyalties', Browning's research discovered that New Bern and Beaufort residents that displayed the most steadfast unionism during the Civil War often suffered the greatest economic decline and social sanction in the postwar years. Less outspoken unionists were able to successfully rewrite their own history. Conversely, ex-Confederates swelled the civic leadership ranks. Those that remained Confederate supporters in the midst of the occupation were respected members of the community, and this often translated into business success.  Reasoning from deep research into available primary source material and focusing on both occupier and the occupied, Browning provides useful insights into the nature of southern unionism and what directions it took under the considerable strain of long term occupation and post war reevaluation.


Other recent CWBA reviews of UNC Press titles:

West Pointers and the Civil War: The Old Army in War and Peace
Fields of Blood: The Prairie Grove Campaign (link to author interview)
* A Savage Conflict: The Decisive Role of Guerrillas in the American Civil War (link to author interview)
* In the Trenches at Petersburg: Field Fortifications and Confederate Defeat
* The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864
* Shenandoah 1862: Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign
* Lincoln and the Decision for War: The Northern Response to Secession
* Trench Warfare under Grant & Lee: Field Fortifications in the Overland Campaign
* Plain Folk’s Fight: The Civil War & Reconstruction in Piney Woods Georgia
* Retreat from Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics, and the Pennsylvania Campaign
* Field Armies and Fortifications in the Civil War: The Eastern Campaigns, 1861-1864

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